So last night I decided to pick up Apple’s new Bluetooth Magic Mouse, mainly because the promise of a MultiTouch mouse is very nearly the “ultimate mouse” that I’ve been looking for. I’ve grown to quite like the MultiTouch trackpad on the MacBook Pro, but still missed the tactile motion-to-movement of a mouse. Giving up the MultiTouch gesture aspects of the trackpad for an ordinary mouse was a bit like stepping backward, though.
My first impression of the mouse was, “Hmm”. It was definitely Apple quality; a slab of aluminium coupled with a slab of either very rigid polymer or glass on the top; nice heft; comfortable and slim profile in the hand; the click action feels solid yet elegant; tracking is impeccable—but the gestures were lacking! For a mouse that has theoretically limitless possibility, Apple decided to ship a woefully limited set of built-in gestures. As with the Mighty Mouse, you have left and right clicking depending upon where your finger is, then a simple left and right two-finger swipe for browser navigation. The horrible Mighty “nipple” is replaced by a single-finger swipe for scrolling around, which is a great improvement. Mainly in the feel of the action itself. With the “momentum” feature turned on, scrolling is a lot more like grabbing the scroll-bar than a scroll-wheel, which has a very linear feel to it. You can smash through a huge document in a single swipe once you get used to it. But, that’s about it!
So I was at first fairly disappointed, and then I found BetterTouchTool, a free application that lets you program MultiTouch devices—and suddenly the original excitement of what this mouse could be capable of were resurrected. With BetterTouchTool, I can enable tap clicking just as with the touchpad (and that is very nice in a mouse, though as with the touchpad, you’ll still need to perform a mechanical click to drag items), and define multi-finger taps for different clicks, including a middle-click which was oddly missing from Apple’s default offerings. Further, proper gestures can be defined. A three-finger swipe downward can activate Expose; a two-finger pinch action can sleep the display (very nice on a laptop); and keyboard keys can be added into the mix to create hundreds of possibilities. Anyone used to a programmable mouse will feel at home with the ability to assign custom gestures to individual applications, as well as assigning gestures to keystroke combinations (how about a three-finger click for Edit Scrivenings and a two-finger pinch out for Full Screen?) and dozens of events from simple double-clicks, to window maximisation, a very handy “show hidden files in Finder action”, to a full system sleep.
Without doubt this is a review for both BetterTouchTool as well as the Magic Mouse. By itself, the mouse is not worth the hefty cost, but with the third-party software the mouse is easily vaulted into the very best you can get for your Mac. I didn’t think I’d ever find anything that would compare to the Logitech MX Revolution’s flywheel, but I think this just might be the trick that defeats that mechanical solution to rapid scrolling. I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of the scroll solution Apple has come up with. It has a delicate balance between precision and efficiency.
One last thing: the batteries. Apple decided to go with good old standard AA batteries. This is a very welcome change from the industry standard these days for cordless mice, where a lithium ion battery is employed. This means no bulky re-charger adding cords to the desk and defeating the point of a cordless mouse, and it also means that the life of the mouse is not limited by the life of a 500-cycle battery. Sure, you have to keep feeding it AAs, and it remains to be seen how intelligently it uses them, but I’ll take that over the problems of lithium ion hardwired to a device.
My recommendation: If you are looking for a programmable mouse that has an elegant tactile feel and good tracking without all of the bother of a dozen buttons hanging off of it, get this mouse and then promptly download BetterTouchTool. You’ll love it.